Recreational Fishing

Fishing is a popular recreational pastime that allows people to spend time on the water with family and friends and to get in touch with the nature.

As well as observing fishing regulations, it is important that fishers adopt responsible fishing practices while out on the water. These practices help protect the natural environment, maintain the ecological balance of the Reef and contribute to improving its general health - particularly at a time when the Reef under increasing pressure.

By following these simple guidelines you are helping to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef continues to be one of the best spots to fish.

Report tagged fish, suspected illegal fish kills (large numbers of dead fish), entrapped marine animals and suspected illegal fishing activity.

Marine Park Zoning

Zoning helps to manage and protect the values of the Marine Park that people enjoy. Each zone has different rules for the activities that are allowed, the activities that are prohibited, and the activities that require a permit. Zones may also place restrictions on how some activities are conducted.

Download this flyer to see how no-take zones are working and providing a range of benefits.

Decorative graphic that shows how no-take green zones work

Recreational fisher in boat - image credit GBRMPA - Phil Laycock

Threats to the Reef - impacts of fishing

When fishing

  • Avoid anchoring on coral – anchor in sand, mud or rubble where possible and always avoid no-anchoring areas.
  • Take only what you need
  • Do not use pest or non-native fish for bait. Never release introduced species into the water
  • Do not fish where fish feeding takes place, for example as part of a tourist program
  • If you're unsure of the fish identity or size, release the fish immediately
  • Return all under-sized and unwanted fish quickly to minimise injury
  • If you're keeping the fish kill it humanely and as quickly as possible
  • Do not litter - clean up all fishing gear (such as discarded tackle and line, and bait bags) and take it back to shore to dispose of it properly.

When spearfishing

Plant-eating fish remove seaweed that can grow quickly after corals bleach — fishers and spearfishers should consider leaving these fish to help control seaweed and enable coral larvae to settle and create new colonies. Find out more about how herbivores can help the Reef recover from coral bleaching.

  • Always track down injured fish, do not let them swim off injured.
  • Spear only what you need
  • Do not pursue a fish if you are unsure of its identity or size
  • Do not take big fish merely as trophies because these are important breeding stock
  • Do not take plant-eating fish

This poster about herbivorous fish helps and these videos of rabbitfish and unicornfish eating seaweed on the Reef help identify the fish.

The spearfishing factsheet shows you where you are allowed to spearfish in the Whitsundays.

When returning unwanted fish

  • Minimise the length of time a fish is out of the water - keep fish in the water as much as possible and have your equipment close at hand. Very large fish should not be removed from the water
  • Do not leave fish on a hot, dry surface to thrash around
  • Place fish on a wet towel and cover them, especially the gills and eyes. The fish should not dry out and direct sunlight can damage their eyes
  • Handle fish gently - fully support its body, do not hold upright by the jaw, squeeze or kneel on the fish
  • Use wet hands or wet cloth when handling fish to minimise damage to their protective mucous coating
  • Remove the hook carefully and quickly using a pair of long-nose pliers or a de-hooker to minimise tissue tearing. If the hook is difficult to remove, cut the line instead, particularly if the gut hooked
  • Help fish recover before their release - gently release the fish headfirst into the water
  • Use barbless hooks or those that are unlikely to become hooked in the gills or gut, such as circle hooks
  • Where fish show signs of expanded swim bladder (barotrauma) return fish to deeper water using a release capsule, release weigh or venting with a hollow needle

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

Note: Take includes removing, gathering, killing or interfering with, or attempting to take. Possess means to have custody or control of. There may be special arrangements for Traditional Owners

  • For many species that do not otherwise have possession limits, you can only take or possess up to five specimens  at any time in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park unless you have a Marine Parks permit
  • You must abide by the fishing requirements in the Zoning Plan:
    • General Use (Light Blue) Zone and Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) Zone - maximum of three lines/rods per person, six hooks in total
    • Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone - one line/rod with one hook per person
    • Buffer (Olive Green) Zone - maximum three lines/rods per person, six hooks in total, trolling for pelagic species only
    • No fishing in the Scientific Research (Orange) Zone, Marine National Park (Dark Green) Zone or Preservation (Pink) Zone
  • You must abide by Queensland Government (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Department of Environment and Science) fishing regulations including species allowed, size limits, possession limits, protected species, tackle restrictions and seasonal and area closures
  • You must not discharge fresh fish parts, unless the fish were caught in the Marine Park.